Art Basel's Hong Kong opening signals shift toward Asia

Updated: 2013-05-15 11:07

By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily)

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Art Basel's Hong Kong opening signals shift toward Asia

Since the 1970 launch of Art Basel, the summer art fair in Switzerland has been integral to the international art scene, drawing 60,000 artists, collectors, curators and gallery owners to an annual promotional platform widely regarded as the art world's most important event.

The fair's winter edition, begun in Miami in 2002, attracts some 50,000 visitors.

This month, Art Basel expands to Hong Kong, taking over ART HK, a successful fair founded in 2007 under the direction of Magnus Renfrew. Art Basel owners MCH Group in 2011 bought a 60 percent stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd, producer of ART HK, which had some 67,000 attendees last year.

The rechristened and streamlined Art Basel HK, which also will be led by Renfrew, signals a recognition of Asia's growing role in international art. More importantly, Art Basel now has a platform for art business on three continents, during three seasons a year. That Hong Kong is one of these platforms is a watershed.

Art Basel HK will run May 21-25, two weeks after the outdoor Frieze NY. The Venice Biennale opens on June 1, followed a week later by Art Basel in its original Swiss locale.

Housed in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Art Basel HK will present works from 245 international galleries (compared with 266 last year) in 35 countries. Half of the participating galleries are in Asia, organizers said.

Renfrew described the Hong Kong show as offering the "strongest-ever lineup anywhere in Asia to date". According to the Art Newspaper, that 50 percent includes Western galleries with Asian locations, such as New York-based Gagosian Gallery.

The fair's Insights section, which will highlight artists of Asian and Asian-Pacific origin (including the Middle East and Turkey), could counter criticisms that Art Basel in the past has neglected local artists. Art Basel has already taken steps to promote more European artists at Basel and more American artists in Miami, to create a deeper sense of connection, organizers said. Also featured in Hong Kong will be more than 30 galleries with New York locations, including David Zwirner, Peter Blum, Gladstone and Marian Goodman.

The assembled work will cover a span of 1,200 years of art history - in painting, photography, video, sculpture, drawings and installations.

Besides connecting Asian artists and galleries to Western buyers, Art Basel HK aims to provide opportunities to galleries representing Western artists eager to sell to Chinese collectors, an increasingly significant art market.

Art fairs are crucial in promoting artists abroad, as they offer an overview of the scene as well as one-stop shopping for curators, institutions and collectors eager to assess trends driving the market. Strengthening personal and business relationships - often one and the same - is integral to building brands and promoting business.

Art Basel chose Hong Kong because of its status as an Asian financial hub, lack of tax on art imports or exports, and its international dynamism, according to organizers. Established international galleries like Gagosian already have a presence in the city, whose proximity to the Chinese mainland is a major draw.

Although sales at the country's major auction houses dipped last year (49 percent at Beijing Poly International Auction Co and 38 percent at Sotheby's Hong Kong), art buyers in China are still considered a boon to art sales worldwide.

Renfrew compared the Chinese art market to America's of a decade ago, around the time Art Basel launched in Miami. He has said that to be taken seriously, international galleries and institutions can no longer focus only on the West.

Art Basel HK is split into four sections: Galleries, featuring a variety of forms from 171 of the world's leading galleries; Encounters, presenting large-scale installations and sculptures, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, organizer of the Sharjah Biennial and chief curator of Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art; Insights, devoted to pieces created for the Hong Kong show by artists and galleries in Asia; and Discoveries, featuring one- and two-person shows by young artists early in their careers as well as a $25,000 prize.

In addition to the major exhibitions, Art Basel will offer its usual side programming, including the Conversations series with art insiders and informal Salon discussion panels on various art topics. The Asia Art Archive, the Asia Society and Para/Site Art Space are also offering a variety of events in conjunction with the fair. The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association will conduct gallery tours for visitors.

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